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Detroit Tigers' Zach McKinstry hits two-run home run in 3-1 win over Texas Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas — Detroit Tigers utility player Zach McKinstry has stepped to the plate 13 times in his MLB career against Texas Rangers right-hander Dane Dunning, with seven hits in the matchups between them.

McKinstry, a .538 hitter against Dunning and a .215 hitter against the other pitchers he has faced in his career, slugged the Tigers to a 3-1 win over the Rangers on Tuesday, the second of three games in the series at Globe Life Field.

"We have all the information," manager A.J. Hinch said. "We want to give McKinstry a few more at-bats and get him a little bit in the mix in every series. This is obviously a good matchup for him, and he came through with a big swing or two."

The Tigers (31-30) have won eight of their last 11 games, including three games in a row, to climb above a .500 record for the first time since May 13.

McKinstry, who started at shortstop instead of Javier Báez, hit the first home run of the season in the second inning, following Colt Keith's single by pulling a down-and-in cutter to right field for a two-run homer.

He put the Tigers ahead, 2-0.

Tigers shortstop Zach McKinstry celebrates his two-run home run during the second inning against the Rangers on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.
Tigers shortstop Zach McKinstry celebrates his two-run home run during the second inning against the Rangers on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.

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McKinstry hit a triple to right field off Dunning for his third multi-hit game of the season in the fourth inning, but the Tigers stranded him with a strikeout from Justyn-Henry Malloy and a groundout from Akil Baddoo.

Riley Greene increased the Tigers' lead to 3-0 with a solo home run in the fifth inning. He lined a first-pitch, down-and-in slider from Dunning inside the right-field foul pole.

It was Greene's team-leading 11th homer of the season, tied for 22nd in the American League.

"The game plan was to get him close," Greene said, "because he's got this, he's got this, he's got shapes of pitches that are moving into you and away from you. I chose to get him close."

Jack Flaherty goes missing

Tigers right-hander Jack Flaherty pitched a gem.

But Flaherty didn't take the mound for the sixth inning — despite throwing just 60 pitches — because of back tightness. He couldn't pitch through the pain in Tuesday's game, but he expects to make his next start, scheduled for June 11.

"A little bit pregame, but I wanted to see how long I could go," Flaherty said. "Just keep going, keep making pitches and keep executing, and when it gets to a certain point, we had a conversation. It's more precautionary than anything."

Nobody would have known Flaherty was injured based on his performance. He allowed two hits across five scoreless innings, with zero walks and four strikeouts.

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Flaherty retired nine batters in a row before Marcus Semien's leadoff infield single in the fourth inning. McKinstry fielded the ball cleanly on a back-handed snag, but he bobbled the ball while transferring it from his glove to his hand and didn't make a throw to first base.

It was ruled a single, not a fielding error.

Flaherty retired the next three batters: Corey Seager (flyout, elevated fastball), Josh Smith (strikeout, below-zone curveball) and Adolis García (flyout, down-and-in fastball).

The Rangers picked up their second hit in the fifth inning, when Nathaniel Lowe dropped a bloop single into shallow center field beyond the reach of McKinstry.

Tigers pitcher Jack Flaherty throws during the first inning against the Rangers on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.
Tigers pitcher Jack Flaherty throws during the first inning against the Rangers on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.

Once again, Flaherty didn't flinch.

Flaherty struck out Ezequiel Duran with a fastball painted on the outside edge of the strike zone, then Wyatt Langford grounded into an inning-ending double play on an inside curveball.

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For his 60 pitches, Flaherty threw 29 fastballs (48%), 16 sliders (27%) and 15 curveballs (25%). He generated 10 whiffs on 33 swings — a 30% whiff rate — with four fastballs, two sliders and four curveballs. His fastball averaged 92.9 mph, down from his season average of 93.8 mph.

"I felt like all my stuff was actually good," Flaherty said. "I felt like the curveball was good. The fastball, I was able to put it where I wanted to and make some good pitches."

Tigers pitcher Shelby Miller throws during the seventh inning of the Tigers' 3-1 win on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.
Tigers pitcher Shelby Miller throws during the seventh inning of the Tigers' 3-1 win on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.

Bullpen steps up

Without Flaherty, the Tigers turned to right-handed reliever Alex Faedo in the sixth inning.

Faedo completed 1⅔ scoreless innings, but he created trouble for the Tigers with three walks and one hit. He was pulled with two outs and two runners on in the seventh, replacing by right-handed reliever Shelby Miller.

Miller, who returned from the injured list before Tuesday's game, struck out Jonah Heim swinging on four pitches — finishing him with an up-and-away 94 mph fastball — to escape the mess he inherited from Faedo. He also sent down all three batters in the eighth inning, including two more strikeouts.

It looked like Miller's best outing of the season, thanks to being fully healthy.

"Makes it a lot easier, that's for sure," Miller said. "You feel like you can throw any pitch in any count. I was filling up the zone really well and felt like I could throw my split in any situation. I was throwing it to Semien right-on-right, and I struck out a lefty on a slider, which I haven't done all year. I think the stuff is playing well right now, and being injured, you saw the decline on the velocity and stuff. That time off really helped me strengthen it up. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."

Left-handed reliever Tyler Holton should've picked up his second save of the season, but that didn't happen because McKinstry and Greene let a ball land between them in shallow center field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Tigers center fielder Riley Greene hits a solo home run in the fifth inning against the Rangers on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.
Tigers center fielder Riley Greene hits a solo home run in the fifth inning against the Rangers on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Arlington, Texas.

The Rangers cut their deficit to 3-1 on the bloop RBI single that should've been caught. Right-handed reliever Jason Foley took over on the mound, and five pitches later, Langford grounded out to end the game.

"I didn't take control over it," Greene said. "I just didn't call it, and the ball dropped. Can't happen, and won't happen again. That's my ball, and it's got to be caught."

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him @EvanPetzold.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Jack Flaherty leaves early in 3-1 win over Rangers